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Pinay Fame, and Fortune: From the Nipa Hut to Owning a BPO

BDJ Summit Overview

After attending the Belle de Jour BDJ Summit Women Help Women I felt inspired and proud to be Pinay.

I discovered so many wonderful Filipina women leaders who articulately imparted their experience as leaders who overcame difficult obstacles moving forward.

I discovered so many wonderful Filipina women leaders who articulately imparted their experience as leaders who overcame difficult obstacles moving forward.

The event, emceed by ABS-CBN’s Atom Araullo, featured these amazing women:

They all gave practical advice on business, financial planning, and paying it forward.

I felt that all the women spoke with sparkle and expertise about their specific topics. The event flowed gently through four modules, namely boosting curiosity and intellectual discourse, working towards financial freedom, finding the courage to lead, and nurturing passion to inspire good.

Two Pinays Who Broke the Cycle of Poverty

During the break I spoke to some people and asked how they felt about the summit. Most of them said the module on financial freedom resonated best with them. I have to agree. The young ones loved the practical tips and advice from Salve Duplito, a media personality widely known as a financial adviser. She spoke on how to invest your money. I must say that I liked her proposition that children should be taught to save for their college education.

I was thoroughly amazed by the life story of Myrna Padilla, a woman who didn’t finish high school, worked as a maid for 20 years, and today runs a successful BPO with clients like PayPal, WordPress, and Windows Azure, to name just a few.

Myrna Padilla’s backstory 
Myrna Padilla at the BDJ Women Helping Women Summit

Myrna Padilla at the BDJ Women Helping Women Summit

If I didn’t know Myrna was a millionaire, I would have never guessed it. She spoke humbly and quietly, her head often bowed down with, a tendency to turn away from cameras. Briefly during intermission she came out, and was surprised by the crowd of people who approached her and asked to take photos with her. She obliged for a few, and then disappeared quickly backstage.  

This millionaire was born in a small, undeveloped Philippine fishing village, with early memories of going to bed hungry. Her best dress was made from a bleached flour sack, and the family of five lived in a nipa hut. She pounded rice for money when she was nine, and dove to catch fish and seaweed when she was 10. The fish put food on the table. The seaweed was sold so she could go to school. She wanted to be a lawyer, but she had to work as a maid to support the family. After a failed marriage of her own, with two beautiful daughters, she had a new dream – for them to finish college and end the cycle of poverty. She became a domestic helper/nanny in Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong. She experienced abuse, but said no abuse comes close to the pain of not seeing your own children for 15 years.

In Hong Kong she cared for an eight-year-old boy who taught her the computer. Seeing the power of the internet, she hungrily learned everything she could. She found new inspiration in 1999 when she founded the Mindanao Hong Kong Workers Federation (MinFed) with other Hong Kong OFWs, meeting every Sunday at a park. Their personal stories gave her a new dream, to use technology to create jobs so Filipinos would not have to be OFWs. By 2006 her children finished college, and she was free to pursue her own dream. She returned to the Philippines and founded MYND CONSULTING. This is what Myrna says about dreaming and succeeding:

  1. Every experience strengthens you. Pounding rice made Myrna physically strong, diving made her resilient and brave (she dove many times successively until she found fish and seaweed), and selling seaweed made her emotionally strong against bullies who called her “ugly” because of her dark skin (from diving), white skin patches, and frizzy hair (from salt water).  
  2. Business is heroic. MYND is a job creator that allows fathers to work, then go home and guide the children. Mothers can work and love their children every day.
  3. Your business must succeed, so that it can continue to do good for society.
  4. Remember those you left behind. Myrna’s OFW Watch program has some 14,000 volunteers globally – domestic workers and nannies – who use technology to help other OFWs who fall prey to human traffickers and modern day slavery.
  5. Volunteering is empowering. OFWs feel good when they are asked to volunteer. Being part of something larger than themselves makes them find meaning in life “beyond the floors they mop or the toilets they clean,” she says. 
Salve Duplito at the BDJ Women Helping Women Summit.

Salve Duplito at the BDJ Women Helping Women Summit.

Salve Duplito’s Backstory

Many of the young people I spoke to said Salve’s speech is relatable to them. This is because Salve, a Gawad Tanglaw awardee and Resident Financial Adviser of ANC’s On The Money,  made them feel that with just a little, you can earn very much. Salve is a popular media figure, so she is comfortable when people approach her for a photograph. She was surrounded by a large crowd, and she accommodated as many people as she could. Despite the fact that she moves in a sophisticated world, she talked about how as a student she learned that branded clothes are not important, and she feels that people should not waste money on Starbucks.

Salve said her mother singlehandedly raised five children on her salary as a public school teacher and sidelined selling various products. They often only had rice to eat.  However, Salve never felt poor because if there was no dinner to eat, her mother would bring home a stranger and say, “this poor person has no place to sleep, and will spend the night here.” In this way, she learned that there are others poorer than her.

Salve could never afford lunch throughout grade school. In high school she asked her mother for forty pesos. She used the money to buy peanuts that she cooked and sold. The money paid for her lunch, with enough left over to buy more peanuts.  She became a Bicol University scholar, but was bullied and ostracized by her rich classmates. She found power in the library, accumulating knowledge so she could never be put down again. She topped the UPCAT for UP Diliman, and became a scholar with a stipend. Today Salve works at ABS-CBN’s News Channel, is a World Bank consultant, and  director of WritersEdge Inc.

Salve’s financial pointers:
  1. People buy things with money they don’t have, to impress people they don’t like. Look FAR into the future and have a financial plan.
  2. Put a limit on what you spend per category.
  3. Tawad. Bargain.
  4. Eat what you need, not what you want. If ever, do it when you want it BADLY.
  5. Compounding interest gets interest. If you save P25/day for five days a week, in one year you will have P6,000 which can be invested in mutual funds in SM or Ayala, or in pooled funds. Some banks accept P5,000 minimum for pooled funds, while BDO accepts P1,000.  
  6. Do a business, or be a tutor. Invest time in increasing your skills to increase your value.
  7. Women invest better than men.
  8. Ask a financial manager how to invest your money.
  9. Women can do a lot of things at the same time when we accept what we can do finance-wise.
  10. There is a growing trend of young breadwinners, so start saving as early as you can.
  11. Children should be taught to save money to pay for their college education.
  12. In business, don’t copy paste — innovate.
  13. Business is risky. Invest in a business that you know. Don’t give up.

Volunteering Empowers Pinays

If you feel impressed with these women and are helped by what they teach, let me say that being right there in their presence was all the more enriching. The most important thing I learned is that when you volunteer, you become empowered.

I walked through the many booths outside the Samsung Hall.


The BDJ Women Helping Women Summit setup a generous, big screen so everyone in the audience could see the speakers well, during the talks. There was also a pledge wall that attendees could sign, and a well-attended booth hall.

There was a scarf I wanted to buy, but it was only for display. As I wandered further through the booths, I reached the World Vision table where a woman showed me children who need sponsors. With just P600 a child can go to school and eat. I looked at the children’s pictures, thinking it might be nice to adopt a girl from Mindanao, but as I was browsing through the options, the lady looked at a boy’s photo and laughed because he was frowning. When she showed me, I knew immediately that the little boy, Zaijan Lee F., was going to be mine. He was adorable.

“Women Help Women” is about discovering your unique sparkle. As I signed up and paid for the sponsorship of my new “son” the lady said, “Today you have made a difference in someone’s life.” I felt happy, strong, and powerful. 

It all felt quite right. 

Publishers note: Thanks so much to Mona for not only attending the summit on behalf of but also for her own light and love that highlights the shine of these awesome pinays at the summit. Not only that, I want to commend her on a love so strong, and a heart so big that she decided to sponsor Zaijan, a little boy who can go to school and eat through the organization of World Vision.

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez is a veteran writer, editor and columnist who has worked with most local and some regional publications. Currently, she writes columns for Cook Magazine and Enrich Magazine. She is an occasional contributor to Business Mirror and Animal Scene. She is also an online staff member of Project Army. Mona has edited and ghostwritten several books and ebooks. She hopes to one day finish a book of her own.

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